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The Dance of the Kurents


USA | Wednesday, 27 May 2015 | Views [113] | Scholarship Entry

I emerged from the face painting tent a butterfly. It was the closest thing to a costume I could manage, and my bulky winter coat wasn’t making me feel very festive. Overhead, white yarn criss-crossed the square like a mega game of Cat’s Cradle. The crowd grew denser with children and adults, most of them dressed up. Superheroes, animals, and book characters surrounded me. Kurentovanje, Slovenia’s biggest Carnival parade, was about to begin. I had arrived from Ljubljana alone and growing lonely, admittedly wearied by the snow and months of hostel living. In Ptuj, I expected costumed revelry, something new to see. I didn’t expect it to transport me.
The first group in the parade appeared dressed as gypsies, mischievous in a hodgepodge of red bandanas, women layered with scarves and skirts, ears heavy with gold hoops. Most walked or skipped arm-in-arm to the barriers where the crowd stood, peddling tiny bottles of wine or flatware. I didn’t have to speak Slovenian to know they were flirting and making jokes. I found myself smiling.
Everyone stilled when a trio in black slacks, white button-downs, and black vests passed. They cracked whips as loud as gunshots to announce the arrival of the day’s most important figures, the ancient demons who would frighten winter away: the kurents.
There must have been fifty of them. At first glance, bare hands were the only clue that humans were beneath the shaggy sheep’s wool suits. Huge, detachable headdresses covered their faces, the wool falling thick over their eyes. Narrow leather snouts jutted out, and long red tongues fell like ties halfway to their waists. Each wore a belt of copper bells. Some had horns, while others had sticks with feathers or colorful streamers poking from their temples. In one hand they wielded clubs wrapped in badger skin. I had never seen anything like it. A boy, no older than five, was the smallest kurent. Instead of a face mask, he wore a little bandana and held a larger kurent’s hand.
Wool awhirl, the kurents clomped down the road, dancing a sort of prehistoric twist. As they danced, a wave of wonder seemed to pass through the crowd. Their every dip, twirl, and clang of the bells evoked cheers and claps. I began hooting along with the rest of the throng—I was encompassed in an otherworldly age, one of ritual and spirit. We were celebrating together. Among the captivated mass of spectators, all of us were awed and happy. All of us were ready for spring to come.

Tags: 2015 Writing Scholarship

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